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I've Been Thinking About Hotels

by on February 16, 2016 6:00 AM
State College, PA

I spent time this past weekend thinking about hotels.

On Sunday -- Valentine's Day -- my wife and I went to the Nittany Lion Inn for a stellar Forbidden Valley dinner-and-a-show production of "Ornamental Love Slaves." (Yes, you read that title correctly!)

In addition, various friends contacted us to let us know they are coming to town for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon and staying at hotels here in Happy Valley.

I reserved a hotel room for our family where we will attend a friend's surprise birthday celebration. Although, if our friend is reading this, it may no longer be a surprise!

I also had to book hotel rooms for our family to attend several youth sports tournaments our son will travel to over the next few months.

A little more interaction with hotels than my normal routine.

Hotels were once a regular part of my life. For several years during the early portion of my career I was staying in hotels two or three nights every week. Thankfully I am no longer a Diamond status customer for various hotel chains.

But the hotels related to THON and the youth sports tournaments touched a nerve for me.

I heard and read several negative comments about hotels in Happy Valley charging higher rates during THON -- not I should point out, from our friends. And I feel those comments are unwarranted.

At the same time, I was subjecting myself to the whims of youth sports tournament organizers who require minimum night stays at their inflated rates, and threaten to throw teams out if they are found staying elsewhere -- actions I find distasteful.

Regarding the area hotels and their pricing strategy during THON weekend, or for that matter Arts Festival, football games, graduation, or any high-demand time, I am fine with a fair and reasonable mark-up.

People are free to shop around -- and doesn't the internet make that task lightning fast and easy -- to find the best option for them. The local lodging establishments -- hotels, motels, B&B's, cabins, and campgrounds -- all independently determine what price gives them the best match of occupancy and revenue.

In addition, some of the money these visitors pay goes to promote additional tourism to the area and the state, which is a glorious concept and could put thousands of dollars in our pockets. If tourism tax revenue increased enough, perhaps the state and local income tax could be abolished. Imagine if you suddenly got a five percent raise -- how exciting would that be to you and your bank account?!

Florida is a great example of this concept. It has no state or local income taxes. None. How do they balance their state budget without any income taxes? In part by getting tourists to help foot the bill through tourism taxes.

Getting other people to pay for your government is a great idea. I appreciate those who find ways to lure more and more people to Happy Valley, charge them to stay here, and use some of their visiting money to pay for my roads and police. Now I understand this concept assumes politicians would eliminate income taxes as tourism tax revenue increases and not just spend the newfound money. Not likely. But one can dream, right?

For a pie-in-the-sky scenario, what if Happy Valley ever reached the level of some other extremely high-profile events around the country -- ew Year's Eve in Times Square for example. My family stayed in a hotel there the week prior and got a very good rate for midtown accommodations. My curious wife asked the desk clerk what the rate for the room would be the following week. She was told $8,000 per night! If people paid eight grand a night for rooms here the tourism tax could replace a nice chunk of my local income tax!

Consequently I am generally in favor of lodging establishments charging a fair mark-up during times of high demand, especially when it's accompanied by the outstanding service and accommodations you find locally.

On the other hand, I am distressingly disappointed in youth sports organizers who lock you in to inflated rates, minimum stays, and pay-to-play schemes even when there is no high demand.

If you have a child who played or is playing a youth travel-team sport you've likely encountered this situation. Your child's team will attend a tournament requiring a hotel stay, almost always on a weekend. You could easily drive there on Saturday, spend one night, and drive back Sunday. But the tournament organizers require a two-night stay at a specific hotel at a set rate, and threaten to disqualify your child's team if their requirements are not met.

The annoying part is when you go online and discover you can book the same hotel (or a comparable one nearby) for the single night you want at the same or better rate, meaning that everything is seemingly set up to relieve you of more money than necessary.

Under normal circumstances you would expect these tournament directors to put together package deals that guarantee you a room and a rate that isn't available to the general public. And we greatly appreciate when we encounter a tournament that operates in this manner. Often enough though you are instead exposed to what would appear to be greedy opportunists taking advantage of youth sports.

Granted, some would say this is just the free market and you can choose not to attend. But they're youth sports after all -- if your child has the ability to play a sport you want to give them the opportunity to do so. And tournament experiences provide diverse competition that is helpful in their athletic development. But you don't want to cause financial hardship if you don't have to -- and charging more than the market rate and making threats is not an example we want set for our kids or an experience we enjoy having. If they are talented and dedicated enough there will be a time and place for them to witness the business side of athletics, but youth tournaments should not be that time and place.

As I said, lots of hotel ruminations this past weekend. I think I'll go book a room at that five-star hotel I've been dreaming about!



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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